Andy Burnham: Voters becoming cynical about Northern Powerhouse policy

Voters in the north are becoming cynical about the Tory policy of the Northern Powerhouse, aimed to spread wealth and prosperity outside the south, Labour's Andy Burnham said.

The former health secretary said the much-talked about policy pushed by the Conservative former chancellor George Osborne was in danger of going the same way as the "Big Society" idea floated by David Cameron.

Mr Burnham, at a hustings for the Greater Manchester mayoral elections, alongside the Tory candidate Sean Anstee and the Liberal Democrat's, Jane Brophy, said the idea seems to have been forgotten by the new Prime Minister Theresa May, who preferred to talk about the "Midlands Engine".

Mr Burnham, the MP for Leigh, Greater Manchester, said: "We seem to be suddenly forgotten. We have got a situation where every single secondary school in Manchester, in Rochdale, in Sean's borough Trafford and in my borough, Wigan, is going to lose under the Government's new schools funding formula. Every single one, heavily.

"You can't build a northern powerhouse by cutting northern councils, northern schools.

"We need to see evidence here that they are going to invest in it.

"It's fine to have a phrase, 'the Northern Powerhouse', people out there are on the verge of being quite cynical. Where is it? We've been promised it and our councils are cutting our schools?

"It looks like it's going the same way as the Big Society if we are not careful."

The Northern Powerhouse aims to devolve powers and money from Whitehall to northern city regions in a bid to boost their economic performance.

The plans also included the election of "metro" mayors for bigger city regions, including Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield.

But the future of the initiative, launched by Mr Osborne in 2014, came under question after Mrs May's arrival in 10 Downing Street and Mr Osborne's exit from the Cabinet to the backbenches after the EU referendum last year.

Mr Burnham, a former cabinet minister, said he would use his "profile" to utilise new devolved powers to help the initiative.

But Mr Anstee, the leader of Tory-controlled Trafford Council, said the Government was still committed to the idea and it had not been "abandoned".

He said: "You can have all the parliamentary experience in the world, but if it is experience of politics that has failed Greater Manchester and the north of England it's not worth having.

"It's not just about rebalancing the economy, moving wealth from the south of England up to the north, it's about getting the north to create its own wealth.

"If we want the UK to be successful, the north of England has to be successful, I think that's where the focus from the former chancellor came from.

"If we ever thought the Northern Powerhouse was going to be created solely in London and Westminster then we fundamentally misunderstood the concept of something of our own, something that we can be proud of.

"So I feel I have done more in three years than successive governments have done for the north of England.

"I'm very proud actually it was a Conservative-led government that was and remains committed to the Northern Powerhouse."

Ms Brophy, the Liberal Democrat candidate and councillor in Trafford, said the north-south divide meant there was "a case" for redistributing funds from south to north.

The Greater Manchester mayoral elections will be held in May.

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